When Arnold Schwarzenegger Was the Newest Member of the Gym

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

At Deadspin, David Davis‘s sprawling oral history of the original Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach is gritty, fun, and brimming with ’70s sleaze and addictive banter. Beyond piecing together the early years of the legendary gym, the story zooms out to show the broader shifts that took bodybuilding from a small Southern California subculture to a multibillion-dollar industry — and then zooms all the way in to focus on the quirks of its ensemble cast. This group of pioneer bodybuilders happens to include Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course: fresh off the proverbial boat, and making his first, heavy-accented moves in the state of which, decades later, he would become the governor.

[Chet] Yorton: I beat this young kid in the [NABBA] Mr. Universe contest in ‘66. He was very subdued. He needed an interpreter because he spoke very little English. He followed me around like a puppy dog backstage. He wanted to know what to do for his calves, what to do for this and that. He came in second to me, but at 20 years old you could tell he was unbelievable. When I came back to Gold’s I told everybody, “You’re not going to believe this guy Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I knew then.

[Frank] Zane: I won Mr. America in September of ‘68. A week later was [IFBB] Mr. Universe in Miami. Arnold was there. He’d just come over to the States. He was white, smooth, didn’t pose good, had missing body parts, couldn’t speak any English. I beat him, and he took it real hard. But Joe Weider immediately fell in love with Arnold and whisked him off to California, where he was moving his business empire [from New Jersey]. Arnold got a Volkswagen, paid apartment, free supplements, couple hundred bucks a week. From Joe Weider, that was pretty amazing.

[John] Balik: Without question, Joe Weider was the most important person in establishing Arnold here. Arnold wouldn’t be here without Joe Weider making the first step and supporting him.

Joe Weider first told Arnold to go to Vince’s because they were doing business together. I was standing next to Vince at the desk when Arnold walked in for the first time. He was wearing flip-flops, white shorts, and a string T-shirt. Arnold was probably the biggest he’d ever been; he weighed maybe 255 pounds. He said in very broken English, “I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m Mr. Universe.” Vince took the cigar out of his mouth and said, “You just look like a fat fuck to me.”

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